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The Life You've Always Wanted #2--An Equipped Life

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January 14, 2007

The Life You’ve Always Wanted

Part 2: An Equipped Life: the practice of Scripture

Introduction: “I have never known someone leading a spiritually transformed life who had not been deeply saturated in Scripture.” God’s Word has the power to transform our thinking and equip us to live the life we’ve always wanted. 

1. Read for ________________________________________________________.

John 5:39-40

2. Read for ________________________________________________________.

          Let it ___________________________________________. 2 Timothy 3:15

          Let it ________________________________________. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

          Let it _____________________________________________. Romans 12:2

          Let it __________________________________. Ephesians 5:26, John 15:3

          Let it _____________________________________________. Hebrew 4:12

3. How to do it:

A. Ask God to _________________________________________________.

B. Read with __________________________________________________.

C. Reflect on __________________________________________________.

D. Take _____________________________________ with you for the day.

January 14, 2007

The Life You’ve Always Wanted

Part 2: An Equipped Life: the practice of Scripture

Opening: Pop quiz:

          Have you ever been talking with someone and didn’t know what to say, and then later it comes to you? 

          Have you ever faced a decision and were stumped—you didn’t know what to do? 

          Have you ever messed up your life by thinking or believing the wrong things? 

          Knowing what to say, what to do, what to believe—does that sound good?  That’s the life you’ve always wanted.  It is the equipped life.  How do you get it? 

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The equipped life comes from the practice of Scripture.  Building your life on God’s Word will equip you to live the life you’ve always wanted.  Today we’re going to talk about how to do that.

Offering and announcements:

          Classes: Love and Respect, Alpha, LG leaders.

          Life Groups

          Tomorrow is a national holiday; our offices will be closed in honor of Martin Luther King.  We honor Dr. King because of his enormous contributions to the cause of racial reconciliation, justice and equality.  But there is still much to be done.  Perhaps the best way to remember and honor Dr. King would be to further his work.  So let me give everyone a simple assignment.  This week, find someone different than you—different race, different culture, different faith, different group—and go out of your way to get to know that person.  We all tend to gravitate to people like ourselves, and be suspicious of those who are different, so we avoid them and we end up segregated.  We put up walls, when we ought to build bridges.  So, in honor of Dr. King, build a bridge this week.  Look for someone different and go out of your way to get to know them.

Introduction:

Please look at the introductory statement at the top of your outline.  “I have never known someone leading a spiritually transformed life who had not been deeply saturated in Scripture.” John Ortburg said that…but I say it too.  Everyone I


know who is being spiritually transformed is getting in the Word, and the Word is getting in them.  Our youth ministries train our kids to “know the Word, love the Word, live the Word.”  Say that with me, please.  When you know the Word, love the Word and live the Word, you grow, you change, and you get equipped to live the life you’ve always wanted. 

This series, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, is about life transformation through spiritual disciplines.  We change not my trying harder, but by training, by using some time-tested practices that help us connect with God.  If you want to read more about spiritual disciplines, these three books are at our resource center.  (Slide of books)  Last Sunday, we talked about the practice of slowing to have an unhurried life.  Today, the practice of Scripture to have an equipped life.

If you want to know the Word, love the Word, and live the Word, you’ve got to dig in.  Flip your outline over and you’ll see “Seven Ways to Interact with God’s Word.”  I’m not going to read all those verses—you can go over those at home—I just want to quickly describe these seven ways to dig in to God’s word.

1.     Hear.  Prior to the printing press, this is how most people got the Word.  They heard it read at church.  We still hear Scripture each Sunday at church, but if that is all of the Bible you’re getting, it’s not enough.  You can also hear the Word on CD, tape or MP3; I know some people who listen to the Bible in their cars during their daily commute.

2.     Read.  I think every Christian ought to read through the whole Bible at least once, and preferably many times.  If you’ve never read through the whole Bible, there is a simple Bible-reading plan in our journal (which you can pick up at the Resource Center or on our website).  You can read through the whole Bible in a year reading 3-4 chapters a day (Bible chapters are short—that’s usually only 3-4 pages, and takes most people 10-20 minutes.)

3.     Study.  This is where you dig deeper.  Get a dictionary and look up the meaning of a word.  Get a concordance and look up all the places where that word is used in the Bible.  Get a commentary that discusses the history or background of a passage.  Get a study Bible and look up cross-references that point you to verses with similar ideas.  Dig in and study!

4.     Memorize.  Commit a verse to memory, and make it yours.  How many of you can’t memorize diddly?  Memory is a function of interest more than ability.  All of you guys who are dating—what’s your girlfriend’s phone number?  Ok, what’s her speed dial number on your phone?  You can remember if it’s important to you.  Some people do seem to have better memory abilities, but that comes from practice; your memory muscles will get better with use.  When you memorize a verse, you’ll be surprised at the times God will bring it back to mind!  You’ll be equipped!

5.     Meditate.  This doesn’t mean that you assume the lotus position and chant!  To meditate is to muse, to ponder, to think, to chew on it.  We’re going to talk more about how to do this today.

6.     Obey.  All of the others mean nothing if you don’t do this!  God said, “Love your enemies.”  You can hear it (love your enemies…), read it, study it, memorize it and meditate on it…but all that is worthless if you don’t do it!  This is the meat of the Word!  James said that if you listen to the Word without doing it, you’re only deceiving yourself.  Jesus said that the difference between the man who only hears the word and the man who hears and does it, is the difference between a man who built his house on sand and the man who built his house on the rock.  Do it!

7.     Share.  When you learn something from God’s Word and put it into practice, then you can share it with others.  You’ll discover that you learn even more when you share what you know. 

Know the Word, love the Word, live the Word.  Seven ways to dig in to God’s Word!

Everyone I know who is being spiritually transformed is in the Word, but not everyone who is in the Word is being spiritually transformed.  That’s because you can read the Bible the wrong way or for the wrong reasons.  If you read the Bible so that you can win arguments with your Christian friends about predestination or transubstantiation or the role of Israel in end-times prophecy or whether women should wear doilies in church—that’s the wrong reason to read the Bible.  If you read the Bible to pile up knowledge so that you can impress everyone with your spirituality—that’s the wrong reason to read the Bible.  Here are the right reasons to read the Bible.

1. Read for relationship.

          The first and most important reason to read the Bible is to know and love God.  Read for relationship with God.

ILL: How do you read the newspaper?  I glance at the headlines, skim an article that might interest me, and then read the sports page!  I read quickly and just enough to gather the facts.  I rarely have an emotional experience reading the paper and I’m certainly not reading to get to know the authors.

          How do read a textbook?  You read as little as possible, as fast as possible to get the best grade possible.  Usually you don’t have an emotional connection with the author.

          How do you read a love letter?  You can’t wait to open it, and you savor every word.  You linger over certain passages, rereading them several times.  The letter elicits strong feelings: you smile, you laugh, you shed a tear, you hope, you dream.  You save it, and pull it out and read it again and again.  Why?  Because of who it’s from and what it says to you personally.

The Bible is God’s love letter to us.  It is the story of God’s stubborn love for human beings despite our rebellion.  It is the story of God pursuing us and winning us by means of the ultimate sacrifice.  He gave everything to have you.  All that’s in here. 

          So read it like a love letter, not a text book.  Read it to know the author and to understand how much He loves you and wants to know you.  Read for relationship.

John 5:39-40 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

Jesus corrected people who thought the Scriptures were an end in themselves.  “If we just know the Bible, we’ll be saved.”  But Jesus said that the “Scriptures testify about me.”  The Bible points to Jesus, but they refused to come to Him.  They missed the whole point.  The point of the Bible isn’t to know the Bible; it’s to know God, to know Jesus. 

Read the Bible for relationship.  God will speak to you.  This is His Word.  God will reveal Himself to you so that you can know Him and know how much He loves you.  Read it like a love letter, not a textbook, to know the author.  Read for relationship.  Which leads to…

2. Read for transformation.

When you read for relationship and get to know the Lord, that leads to change: transformation.  Real change happens in the context of a genuine relationship with God. We read the Bible not just for information but for transformation.  How does the Bible transform us?  Here are a few ways.

          Let it make you wise for salvation.

2 Timothy 3:15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Here is the first and biggest transformation: the Bible makes us “wise for salvation”; that is, it teaches us how to be saved through faith in Jesus. 

ILL: I love the story of Barry McGuire—do you remember his famous hit, “The Eve of Destruction”?  1965.  Barry ended up strung out on drugs.  He was at a friend’s house one day and saw a book that said “Good News for Modern Man”.  He thought, “Hey, I’m a modern man,” and started reading.  His friend came in and said, “What are you doing reading the Bible?”  Barry threw it down and said, “Ah, those Christians are disguising the Bible.” 

But he couldn’t get Jesus out of his mind, so he started reading the Bible at home alone.  And the more he read, the worse he felt, until finally he was at a party, and was so miserable he crawled under a table.  Someone saw him and said, “Barry, what’s wrong?”  Barry said, “You are, man.  And I am.  And the whole world is.”  And there, under the table and deeply convicted by what he’d read in the Bible, Barry said, “God, if You’re there, I need You.”  And that’s how Barry became a Christian.

Reading the Bible led him to Christ.  Reading the Bible made him wise for salvation.  If you’re looking for God, read His book!

ILL: Eileen was upset when her daughter came home and told her that a friend was talking to her about God.  Eileen was disappointed with her own life, but wanted nothing to do with God.  That night Eileen couldn’t sleep.  At midnight she went downstairs and picked up a Bible.  She couldn’t remember the last time she had been to a church, nor had she ever opened a Bible on her own.  When she opened it now, she noticed it was divided into an “old” part and a “new” part.  She decided to start with the “new” part figuring the book may have been updated. 

          So in the still of the night she sat on her living room floor and began to read the gospel of Matthew.  By 3 AM she was in the middle of John’s gospel and found, as she puts it, that she had fallen in love with the character of Jesus.  “I don’t know what I’m doing,” she prayed to God, “But I know You are what I want.” 

Reading the Bible led her to Christ.  Reading the Bible made her wise for salvation.  If you’re looking for God, read His book!

          Let it equip you.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The Bible is inspired and is useful.  I like that word: useful.  It can also be translated “profitable”.  I like doing profitable things.

ILL: Have you seen the ads, “Read for fun and profit.”  Someone will pay you to read!  What if someone offered to pay you $25 an hour to read?  That’s profitable!

God’s offering you something better than $25 an hour!  He’s offering to equip you for life.  Reading the Bible is useful, profitable, because it equips us for life.  We gain the wisdom we need to know what to say, what to do, what to believe.

How would you like to be thoroughly equipped for every good work?  Know the Word, love the Word, live the Word. 

          Let it renew your mind.

Romans 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

How are we transformed?  By the renewing of our minds.  And how are our minds renewed?  I believe it is by God’s Word.  When I dig into the Bible:

·        it changes my thinking;

·        it adjusts my attitudes;

·        it corrects my values;

·        it straightens out my beliefs;

·        it renews my mind.

Dig into God’s Word and renew your mind.

          Let it wash you.

Ephesians 5:26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,

Paul is talking about marriage and using Jesus and the church as an example.  Christ died to make us holy, and cleanses us “by the washing with water through the word.”  In other words, Jesus washes us with His word.  He said the same thing in:

John 15:3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.

Jesus washes us with His word. 

          Imagine having a mind cleansed of all the junk that blocks our best intentions.  Imagine if each time you saw another person your first thought was to pray for him or her.  Imagine what it would be like if any time you were challenged or anxious, your immediate response would be to turn to God for strength.  Imagine, if you’re a married man, that whenever you looked at any woman other than your wife you would see her as if she were your sister or your daughter.  Imagine genuinely wishing your enemies well.

          That’s what it would be to have a mind washed by the Word.

          Let it judge you.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

When we read for transformation, we don’t judge the Word, we invite the Word to judge us.  Have you experienced this?  You’re reading the Word and it cuts like a sword through all your rationalizations and nails you!  When you read the Bible this way, it’s like God turns a giant spotlight on your life, and you see things clearly: things that need to be washed or change.

          Read for relationship.

          Read for transformation.

 

3. How to do it:

          So how do we read the Bible for relationship and transformation?  Here are four simple ideas.

A. Ask God to meet you in Scripture.

          Pray first.  We say this all the time around here.  Pray first.  Before you read, pray first, and ask God to meet you in the Scripture, to speak to you, to renew you, equip you, judge and wash you.  I don’t just grab my Bible, read it as fast as I can, check off the box on my reading plan and scoot on.  I start by praying.  “Lord, I’m here again.  And I know You’re here.  I’m taking this time to be with You, to let you teach me, speak to me, change me.  I need You.”  I quiet my heart, acknowledge Him and then I read.

Then as you read, expect Him to speak to you.  When you read God’s Word, you are reading His love letter to you; God will speak to you.  As you read, certain ideas may strike you.  You may feel moved reading about God’s love, or feel convicted about some sin, or be prompted to do something.  Expect God to speak to you through Scripture.

B. Read with a humble spirit.

          When it comes to reading Scripture, the key question is not “how much,” but “how”.  It’s possible to read Scripture without being washed by it.  To know the Bible but to be unchanged by it is worse than not knowing it at all.  So how we read it is more important than how much we read.  Read with a humble spirit.

          We are disciples of Jesus.  The word “disciple” means “learner”.  We always approach Jesus as the Teacher, and we are the learners.  And this is how we approach Him in the Word as well.  We come to the Bible as learners.  We come to sit at Jesus’ feet and let Him speak to us, and teach us, and change us. 

          I teach the Bible every week.  But in my daily time with God, I don’t come to the Bible as a teacher; I come as a learner.  I come to learn from Jesus.  That’s how to read the Bible.

C. Reflect on a brief passage.

          As I said earlier, I think every Christian ought to read through the whole Bible at least once, and preferably more.  It is important to be familiar with the whole Bible, and this means reading all of it.  But if we’re reading for transformation, we have to read slowly.  It is not as important to get through the Scriptures as it is to get the Scriptures through us.  When we read for transformation, we take a shorter passage, maybe a few verses, maybe only one, and we chew on it.  We sit with it and stew on it; we think and we pray.  The question we ask is, “God what are you wanting to say to me from this.”

          Here’s how I do it.  I am reading the Bible through again this year, so I read 3 or 4 chapters a day, and as I said, it takes 10-20 minutes.  But then I meditate on one passage.  I pick out the verse or passage that stood out to me, or where I felt like God was speaking to me, and I park there.  I’ll read it out loud, slowly. 

          Did you know that the word “meditate” in Hebrew literally means “to mutter”?  It’s a picture of someone so deep in thought that he is talking to himself, thinking out loud.  That’s meditation: thinking out loud.  So I’ll read the verse out loud, and then talk to myself.  I’ll mutter.  Muse.  Chew on it.  Maybe a word or phrase or idea really stands out.  I’ll say it out loud.  Mutter it again and chew on it some more. 

          Here’s the catch: you can’t mediate fast.  We’re back to last week—we’ve got to slow down.  There are no Evelyn Wood courses in speed meditation: “I can meditate at 700 words a minute with 90% comprehension.”  You meditate slowly, thinking out loud, muttering, musing, pondering, chewing on the Word.  I chew!

          It’s while I’m chewing on it that new insights come, and God speaks to me.  Here’s an example.  Yesterday, my Bible reading was Genesis 31-33, and Luke 13.  Luke 13:30 stood out to me.

Luke 13:30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.  NIV

Luke 13:30 And note this: Some who seem least important now will be the greatest then, and some who are the greatest now will be least important then.  NLT

So I read this verse out loud slowly and muttered it and thought about it and then jotted down my musings, which I’m going to read to you right out of my journal.

I thought again of Jeff, who was last in our house, least important in terms of his success, his achievements.  (Jeff had Aspergers Syndrome, a form of autism, that made social interaction and school difficult.  My other children all excel in those arenas.)  Jeff’s deficits made him last.  Somehow God will make up for those deficits and he will be first.  Of course, he is first to heaven!  Eugene Peterson calls this the Great Reversal.  Those who went without here will have it there.  Jeff was last in many ways, and yet I saw some remarkable things.  His courage: I would have never tried the Marines or the Arctic fishing boats.  His resilience: he failed at most things, but kept trying.  His effort: life was a daily struggle, but he refused to give up.  Many people who are more gifted than Jeff and without his deficits show far less courage and resilience and effort.  I admire him.  Those things will be rewarded in heaven and he will receive the honor he deserves.  

          Think about all the people like Jeff, people who (for whatever reason) live near the bottom of the heap.  It takes so much more courage for these people to face each day than it does for me.  Sadly, I tend to overlook these people, to brush them aside.  I like to spend my time and energy on winners, on the have's, not the have-nots.  But imagine what it would be like to be one of these people--"the least of these", as Jesus called them.  I'm sure they notice the snubs, the brush-offs, the disrespect.  Some day the tables will be turned and they will be first.  God will reward them for the spectacular courage and resilience they have shown. 

          Today, try to see people like God sees them.  Look past the outward success or failure; treat every person with respect as "the greatest" or "the first", or "most important." 

God used that verse to speak to me and wash my brain and change my behavior.  Whenever I take the time to meditate on a short passage of Scripture, God speaks to me.  I learn, and I’m washed and changed. 

D. Take one thought or action-step with you for the day.

I try to come away with one thought or action-step for the day.  I often underline that in my journal.  Of course yesterday’s was;

Today, try to see people like God sees them.  Look past the outward success or failure; treat every person with respect as "the greatest" or "the first", or "most important." 

As I thought about it last night, I realized that there were still some people in my day that I treated as “last” instead of “first”.  God’s Word is still working on me!

          The reason this step is so important is that it turns your Bible reading into behavior, into action.  It takes it from hearing to doing, and that is how we are changed. 

          There you have it.  Pray, Be humble.  Focus on a short passage.  Do it.

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